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Read all the latest news and announcements from Northern Ireland Opera.

The Festival of Voice 2020 takes place in Belfast: winners announced.

Live opera returned to Belfast in front of a small socially distanced audience last night at The Festival of Voice 2020 in the First Church Belfast. This is the first time live opera has been performed in the city with an audience since before the lockdown.
Five finalists from across the island of Ireland competed for the Deborah Voigt Opera Prize and to become the Northern Ireland Opera Voice of 2020.  David Corr, a baritone from Dublin who is a current member of the Northern Ireland Opera Studio won the overall prize and Andrew Irwin, a tenor from County Fermanagh, won the Audience Prize.
The other three finalists were soprano Jade Phoenix, mezzo Sarah Luttrell and bass-baritone David Howes. NI Opera’s Patron, broadcaster Sean Rafferty, presented the awards. A short film about the event with concert highlights will be released on Northern Ireland Opera’s YouTube channel at 8 p.m. on 13th September.  For further information about the Festival please follow this link.

Live Opera Returns to Belfast

Northern Ireland Opera is bringing The Festival of Voice, our much-loved annual celebration of singing to Belfast this week, with a theme of Myths and Legends, in partnership with BBC Radio 3. All events will be performed live in the First Church Belfast on August 28-30th and recorded. BBC Radio 3 will broadcast the recitals in the early autumn while the competition finale will be filmed and released via the Northern Ireland Opera YouTube channel on September 13th.

Usually this celebration of the best young opera voices from the island of Ireland takes place in the beautiful coastal village of Glenarm. While we cannot be there this year due to COVID 19, we are delighted to still be able to bring live performance to Belfast across three days of recitals.

For the competition part of the Festival, five finalists have the opportunity to work with prestigious vocal coaches across the weekend in the build-up to our annual finale where they compete by performing arias, duets and Irish songs in front of a judging panel of opera experts, hosted by our Patron, Sean Rafferty. These events will all take place in the historic First Church Belfast, home to our annual Summer Recital series and Christmas Concert. The winner of the Deborah Voigt Opera Prize will become the Northern Ireland Opera Voice of 2020. The performances will be recorded live in Belfast and released via our YouTube channel on a date to be confirmed in mid-August.

This year’s finalists are David Corr (baritone), David Howes (bass baritone), Andrew Irwin (tenor), Sarah Luttrell (mezzo-soprano) and Jade Phoenix (soprano). The winner is awarded a monetary prize and the chance to attend Canto al Serchio in Tuscany, run by Belfast-born international baritone, Bruno Caproni, one of Northern Ireland’s most successful opera stars.

The Glenarm Festival of Voice also features three BBC Radio 3 Recitals. This year we will welcome soprano Ailish Tynan, mezzo-soprano Kitty Whately and baritone James Newby, with accompanist Simon Lepper. They’ll be bringing a wonderful range of concerts exploring our theme of ‘Myths and Legends’. These performances will also be recorded here in the First Church, Belfast and broadcast in the autumn on BBC Radio 3.

The Festival of Voice is generously supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Belfast City Council, the Esmé Mitchell Trust and the Garfield Weston Foundation.

For more details click here.

The Festival of Voice 2020: An Interview with the BBC’s Senior Producer, Classical Music: Richard Yarr

The Festival of Voice 2020 is taking place in Belfast on 28th -30th August this year and we are delighted to be working once again with BBC Radio 3, our partners in this annual festival of singing.  We asked Richard Yarr, Senior Producer, Classical Music about this partnership and what to expect from the BBC’s recitals this year.

Why is BBC Radio 3 involved in Northern Ireland Opera’s annual Festival of Voice?

As a radio network we are keen to profile events right across Northern Ireland, from cities and towns, to remote villages. The Festival’s unique setting in Glenarm, with its excellent recording spaces, has been so successful for us.  It’s also important for us to offer the festival’s rising stars the opportunity to experience professional recitals as part of their learning residency. Operationally it also works well, thanks to the skill and talent of the NI Opera team, and as the producer, I’m always happy to have the Walled Garden tea room at Glenarm Castle close at hand. This year we’ll be in Belfast due to the public health situation, but the Festival will bring live opera to the city for the first time since the lockdown.

How do you go about choosing the singers who perform the three BBC Radio 3 recitals?

Well it’s a bit of a jigsaw. I’ll always have initial discussions with the Vice-Chair at NI Opera: she was the founder of the Festival, so I’m keen to know what particular voices she’d like her young singers to hear. We’ll also discuss themes and I’ll often add names suited to that repertoire.  The accompanist’s opinion is also vital, as they’ve curated the series for us in recent years. Armed with all that information I’ll pitch the series to my editor in London and respond to any tweaks she asks us to make. It’s a bit of a conveyor belt, but worth the refinement to deliver something top-notch.

This year’s theme is Myths and Legends. What can we expect from the repertoire?

As it’s the Festival’s 10th anniversary, we thought we’d shine the spotlight on the colours and character of Glenarm. So, while we won’t physically be there, we’ll celebrate these in Belfast. There’ll be four programmes for broadcast: ‘Myths and Legends’, exploring figures like Fionn mac Cumhaill; ‘Fairy Worlds’, brought to life by composers including Eric Coates, Herbert Hughes and John Cage; ‘Scottish Connections’ showcased in Schumann’s gripping Mary Stuart Songs, for example; and ‘Taste of the Sea’, courtesy of Fauré, Howard Ferguson and Rebecca Clarke.  Listeners can expect real variety and some lesser-known gems.

Tell us about the singers who BBC Radio 3 has chosen to be involved in 2020’s Festival of Voice?

First up it’s our own Ailish Tynan – a favourite with Northern Ireland audiences. Ailish is a superb communicator, winning the Rosenblatt Recital Prize at the 2003 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition. She’s also a former BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist: a scheme which supports talented musicians in reaching the next stages of their careers with a range of prestigious engagements and broadcast opportunities. I love working with her. She’s an absolute hoot!

The British baritone James Newby will also be with us. James is a current New Generation Artist, joining the scheme in 2018 and making great waves. He has a stunning voice and I’m looking forward to working with him for the first time.

And the British mezzo Anna Huntley completes the line-up. Anna is a really versatile performer, equally at home on the concert, opera and recital stages.  As a regular collaborator with Simon Lepper, accompanist at the Festival, I’m expecting something special. [Please note, that Anna Huntley has had to withdraw from the event since this interview took place and will be replaced by mezzo Kitty Whately]

I imagine the last few months have been very challenging: how has BBC Radio 3 had to adapt to manage the problems around live performance?

It’s been extraordinary and much of the time I’ve felt like Mystic Meg, setting up events for late summer and autumn, and hoping for the best. We’ve delivered virtual performances, commissioned new work from composers and explored the talents of groups and individual musicians within the BBC Choirs and Orchestras – including the Ulster Orchestra.  Health and Safety has been a huge focus for us, in terms of our return to the concert hall, and who can forget our new friend Zoom? I hadn’t heard of it before March and now it’s there to welcome me each morning. It’s been a godsend in terms of planning.

When will we be able to hear the Festival of Voice recitals on BBC Radio 3?

Tune in to BBC Radio 3, just after the 1pm news, between Tuesday 13 and Friday 16 October … and enjoy!

To find out more about this year’s Festival of Voice, please click here.

Northern Ireland Opera Studio 2020/21: Applications Reopen.

The Northern Ireland Opera Studio is a comprehensive performance and training programme designed to nurture aspiring talent and showcase up-and-coming singers from across the island of Ireland. It is at the heart of the company’s mission to develop emerging operatic talent.

For the duration of the programme, a cohort of talented young singers based on the island of Ireland become affiliated artists of the company and are given the opportunity to hone their skills while receiving professional support at a transitional stage in their careers. At the centre of the programme are its studio-scale productions of diverse operatic repertoire. This approach recognises the invaluable contribution of stage experience and collaborative work with creative teams to a singer’s professional career trajectory. The participants also take part in a rigorous, high-quality training scheme including coaching by some of the best vocal tutors in Europe; masterclasses led by opera singers of international stature; language coaching; audition training; resilience training and career advice. Crucially, the Studio also contributes to NI Opera’s outreach activities. Members are not only involved in creating and leading interactive workshops with children, but also perform newly devised or commissioned pieces for young audiences.

Northern Ireland Opera is committed to aid its Studio cohorts in forging useful and sustainable professional relationships within the sector. Many past and current members of the Studio programme also continue to play an important role in the company’s artistic output.

Studio Activities

• Regular performances of Studio productions in venues throughout Northern Ireland
• Performances in recitals and at events throughout the year
• Master classes and vocal coaching by some of the industry’s leading professionals
• Language coaching
• Stage craft workshops and audition training
• Outreach activities
• Opportunity to be involved in NI Opera main-stage productions

Eligibility Criteria
• The programme is open to singers who are interested in pursuing a career in opera and would benefit from further educational opportunities.  We are particularly keen to receive applications from singers born in or permanently based in Northern Ireland.
• Participants must be aged between 21 to 35 when the programme starts in October 2020 and domiciled* in the island of Ireland by 11th September 2020. i.e. by the time you apply and for the duration of the programme.
*You are domiciled in the country where you have your permanent home – domicile is distinct from nationality or residence and you can only have one domicile at any given time. For more information, please consult your Inland Revenue website – /*.

Application Details
Email a CV and cover letter stating how the Studio would be valuable to you for the attention of Cliona Donnelly, General Manager, Northern Ireland Opera, at by 5 p.m. on 11th September 2020. Successful candidates will be invited to auditions which are planned to take place on 25th September 2020 in Belfast, subject to public health advice.

More information about the NI Opera Studio programme here.

Playlist! Zoë Jackson takes us on her musical journey to the NI Opera Studio.

Soprano Zoë Jackson is a current member of the Northern Ireland Opera Studio.  We asked her to tell us a little about how she discovered her passion for opera and some of the experiences that led her to start a career as a professional opera singer. We hope that it might interest some of our younger followers who might be starting to think about their own career options. Here’s Zoë’s listening guide, with some of the pieces which helped lead her on the path from school to being a professional opera singer.

Zoë, what is the first piece of music you can remember which sparked your interest in singing?

As a child, I spent many a weekend watching The Sound of Music with my grandparents, so this musical has always held a special place in my heart. In my final year of school I was fortunate enough to play the role of Maria in our school production. This was my first time playing a singing role in a production and is when I truly fell in love with being on stage. I think there is something really special about playing a character on stage and this is a huge part of both musical theatre and opera: there’s so much more than the music!

Tell us about your next suggestion?

My first memory of this piece was my music teacher playing it to me at school. I remember being amazed by the virtuosic singing and it really was unlike anything else I’d ever heard before. It comes from an operetta called Candide by Bernstein. Operettas tend to be shorter and more light-hearted than traditional operas and often feature spoken dialogue. If you are new to opera, I think operettas and light operas are a great starting point!

Can you remember how you then started learning a little more about opera?

When I was in the sixth form, I completed my work experience with Northern Ireland Opera. Little did I know that a few years down the line I would be singing with them! During my work experience I spent a few days observing rehearsals for Verdi’s Macbeth. This was my first experience of opera in ‘real life’ and I remember being amazed by the extreme attention to detail and the talent of the performers. This is part of the scene which the company were rehearsing those few days and I loved seeing it really come to life in the full performance a few weeks later. I left my work experience inspired and desperately wanting to know more about opera!

Are there any pieces you learnt at school which you still perform now?

I first sang ‘Silent Noon’ for one of my singing exams at school and it is still one of my favourite pieces to perform. The text is so cinematic and emotive, which paired with Vaughan Williams’ beautiful music never fails to make me smile.

When did you first start to think you might be a professional opera singer?

When I was 18, I had the amazing opportunity to perform Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius at The BBC Proms with Sir Simon Rattle and The Vienna Philharmonic as part of The BBC Proms Youth Choir. I remember standing in The Royal Albert Hall thinking ‘wow, imagine if this was your job’! This is ‘Demons Chorus’, a particular favourite of mine, however I would highly recommend listening to the whole piece.

Tell us about your next playlist suggestion?

‘O Mio Babbino Caro’ is a probably one of the most famous opera arias in the world although the opera it comes from, Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi is perhaps less well known. During my time at university I performed the role of Lauretta in the opera and the more I got to know this very funny, witty opera the more it changed my perception of this piece. When listening to or singing an aria I would highly recommend reading a synopsis of the whole opera and seeing where it fits into the story as it may change how you look at it!

Can you pick an overture which you find particularly inspiring?

The first thing we hear and our first chance to hear the orchestra in all their glory is the opera’s overture. This is a particular favourite of mine from Bizet’s Carmen: what an amazing start to an opera!

Do you have an opera you return to again and again?

I am a huge fan of Puccini so it is no surprise that some of my favourite operas are his works. My absolute favourite opera is La Bohème and rarely a day goes by when I don’t listen to it. This is Mimi’s first aria which she sings to Rodolfo on their first meeting.


To find out more about the NI Opera Studio programme, click here.

If you’re currently 16-21 and would like to express an interest in work experience at Northern Ireland Opera (likely to be in 2021 due to current public health restrictions), please email